Cover image: “Perfect Love” by Del Parson.
John and Jude wrote their epistles at a time when apostasy was threatening the Church. A highly esteemed New Testament scholar wrote of “the church trembling on the brink of annihilation” (D. Edmond Hiebert, The Pauline Epistles, 2:252). The second-generation Christians lacked the enthusiasm of the early Church. Even though it had been only a few decades since the death of Jesus Christ, false teachers were teaching a “doctrine” different from that taught by the apostles (see 2 John 1:9–10), being influenced by pagan influences and philosophies.
Overview and Background
The epistles of 2-3 John deal specifically with topic of dissension among the community of believers. Some claimed that Jesus Christ had not come in the flesh (see 1 John 4:1–3). Diotrephes, a local Church leader, refused to recognize John’s authority (see 3 John 1:9–10). John bluntly labeled those who taught false doctrine as being “antichrist” (1 John 2:18, 22; 4:3), and he encouraged Church members to shun falsehoods and remain with him in fellowship “with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Jude warned the Saints of “ungodly men” who had “crept in unawares” (Jude 1:4; see also verse 15). As eyewitnesses of the resurrected Savior, John and Jude counseled the faithful on how they might resist false doctrines.
First John, however, does not directly address the topic of the saints’ departure from the truth, but is instead is a sermon on love. Perhaps this is an indication of what John saw as the primary reason for the problems that arose among them. These discussions are important because they continue the theme of the new commandment to love one another from the Gospel of John. They are a reminder of the basic commandment given in Leviticus 19:18, to love thy neighbor as thyself, and the development of an early Christian ethic of love, connecting both the Old and New Testaments.
The epistles of John were probably written from Ephesus, where John is reputed to have lived after his banishment to Patmos (see Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 3.20.8–3.23.6), though no place is mentioned in the letter. The epistles were probably written about 100 AD, after the book of Revelation. John, as the only apostle left, must have looked around him and observed how far the popular philosophies of the day, influenced as they were by Greek philosophy, had caused the saints to drift from the truth. John must have felt similar to the way the prophet Alma felt when, looking at the state of his people, saw no way of reclaiming them “save it were in bearing down in pure testimony against them” (Alma 4:19).
Gnosticism maintained that the spirit is good, the body evil, and therefore it rejected the teaching that Jesus actually experienced mortality in a physical body. Essentially, this heresy had the effect of denying the physical suffering and the very atonement of the Savior. John denounced such heretical teachings, labeling those who so taught as “antichrists.” Followers of Gnosticism believed that salvation was not achieved by being freed from sin but rather by freeing the spirit from matter, meaning the physical body. They also believed that salvation was achieved through special knowledge (gnosis) rather than through faith in Jesus Christ. John reaffirmed in a positive way both the humanity (1 Jn. 4:1–3) and the divinity of the Savior, and the vital importance of coming to know Christ.
A particular part of Gnosticism that was gaining popularity at the time was Docetism. Docetism comes from the Greek dokeo, meaning “to seem” or “to appear.” Followers of Docetism overemphasized Jesus’s spiritual nature to the point that they rejected the idea that He came to earth in actual bodily form. They believed that God was invisible, immortal, all-knowing, and immaterial, and they considered the physical world and the physical body to be base and evil. Therefore, they believed that since Jesus was the divine Son of God, he could not have experienced the limitations of being human. In their view, Jesus Christ was not literally born in the flesh, and he did not inhabit a tangible body, bleed, suffer, die, or rise with a physical resurrected body—he only seemed to do these things.
The First Epistle of John
1 John 1:1–3 Bearing down in pure testimony in order to combat false philosophies.
I love the way that John refutes these false philosophies. He bears powerful testimony of his personal experiences with the resurrected Jesus Christ. He himself has heard with his ears. He himself has seen with his own eyes. His own hands have handled “the Word of Life” in the flesh. John is arguing against this group in his Gospel – John 1:14, “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” In John 20:27, John testifies of how he touched with his fingers the pierced hands and side of his Savior. He leaves no room for argument. He says, “I was there!” This eyewitness testimony is powerful indeed.
I have pondered on the reason why these early saints needed to acknowledge that Jesus actually had a physical body. I have concluded that it is Jesus’s humanity that brings him into a relationship with each of us. He can relate to what earth life is all about. How can he act as my advocate (paraclete) if he has no idea of what it is that I have gone through here on earth?
John wrote that one purpose of his letter was to help his readers have fellowship with those who had seen and heard Jesus Christ, and then in turn enjoy fellowship “with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ” (John 1:3). Fellowship includes the ideas of communion, partnership, and sharing a common life. In order to enjoy the fullness of the joy of this fellowship, John taught that we must become like them.
John tells us that “when [Christ] shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). We know that Christ is a being of great glory, in the similitude of his Father. In this same verse, we are told that “now we are the sons of God,” but at some point we shall be like him, possessing glory. As I pondered on this, it came to me that perhaps this is another reason it is so important for us as children of God to know why Christ was resurrected with a physical body, in a glorified state. I am no physicist, but Einstein’s teachings about the connections between matter and energy are powerful ones. One tiny atom contains enough potential energy to blow up a city! Perhaps resurrected bodies and glory are somehow connected.
1 John 1:5-7 Have no fellowship with darkness, but walk in light.
John wrote that “God is light, and in him is no darkness at all” (John 1:5). Jesus is “the light of the world,” and “commanded the light to shine out of darkness” (2 Cor. 4:6). I love how the same God who separated the light from the darkness at creation “hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”
I also love the idea presented in D&C 50:24 – “that which is of God is light,” and that if we are willing to receive that light and abide in it, we will receive “more light,” which will continue to grow brighter until “the perfect day.”
John repeatedly contrasted light with darkness and encouraged readers to abide in the light. John associated light with love and darkness with hate (see 1 John 2:9–11). When we love others, we invite the light of Christ to illuminate our lives.
Perhaps the strongest message of John’s epistles is the love of God. This encompasses God’s love for us as his children, and the love we should have for him and all his children. After all, John had personally experienced the love of the Savior. He was the apostle “whom Jesus loved” (John 20:2), and was found leaning upon his bosom at the Last Supper. He wanted the Saints to feel that same powerful love in the face of trials and opposition. He taught that “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear” (1 John 4:18).
1 John 2:1–2; 4:10. Our Advocate and Propitiation
John called the Savior our “advocate with the Father” and “the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 2:1–2). An advocate is a person who supports or pleads the cause of another person – like a defense attorney. Because Jesus Christ was perfectly righteous and satisfied the demands of justice for the sins of others, he is qualified to plead on our behalf before the Father (see Hebrews 7:25–26; D&C 29:5; 45:3–5).
A propitiation is an atoning sacrifice, a means of making amends for sins and thus reconciling a broken relationship. Under the law of Moses, individuals who had committed sins offered animal sacrifice to make reparation for their sins and reestablish a right relationship with God. Because of his love for us, God reversed this order in the Atonement of Jesus Christ—instead of the sinners (us) offering a sacrifice to appease the one offended (God), propitiation was offered by the one who was sinned against. God the Father offered the reconciliation offering—his own Son—as an atoning sacrifice for the remission of all our sins, upon the condition of our repentance (see also Romans 3:25.) No wonder we sing, “Oh, it is wonderful, wonderful to me” when we consider what God has done because of his love for us.
1 John 2:15–19, 22, 26; 4:3. Love not the world.
In today’s world, we see many who formerly believed in spiritual things and held a belief in God and in an afterlife have turned from these beliefs and become “secularized,” loving the world more than God. I love hearing John plead with the Saints to “love not the world.” Speaking of false teachers among the Saints, he warned that “even now are there many antichrists” (1 John 2:18). An antichrist is anyone or anything that counterfeits the true gospel plan of salvation. It does not need to be a person, or speak against Christ directly. This would make an antichrist too easy to detect. Satan is much more clever than that. Often, such false philosophies sound wonderful, but in a subtle way, they undermine truth.
I love this quote from Elder M. Russell Ballard:
In the Church, we often state the couplet: “Be in the world but not of the world.” As we observe television shows that make profanity, violence, and infidelity commonplace and even glamorous, we often wish we could lock out the world in some way and isolate our families from it all. . . .
Perhaps we should state the couplet previously mentioned as two separate admonitions. First, “Be in the world.” Be involved; be informed. Try to be understanding and tolerant and to appreciate diversity. Make meaningful contributions to society through service and involvement. Second, “Be not of the world.” Do not follow wrong paths or bend to accommodate or accept what is not right.
We should strive to change the corrupt and immoral tendencies in television and in society by keeping things that offend and debase out of our homes. In spite of all of the wickedness in the world, and in spite of all the opposition to good that we find on every hand, we should not try to take ourselves or our children out of the world. Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like unto leaven,” or yeast. (Matt. 13:33.) We are to lift the world and help all to rise above the wickedness that surrounds us. The Savior prayed to the Father:
“I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil.” (John 17:15.) (Conference Report, April 1989, 101)
1 John 2:20, 27. “An Unction from the Holy One”
Even as John pointed out how antichrists were at work within the Church, he assured the Saints that “an unction from the Holy One” would allow them to “know all things” as they sought to resist false ideas (1 John 2:20). That is, they had received the Holy Ghost so that the spirit of revelation and knowledge rested with them. John taught them that through the Holy Ghost, they coulddiscern the philosophies of men from eternal truths.
1 John 3:1–3. “The Sons of God” Have the Potential to Become like Him
John called the Saints “the sons of God” and said that “when he shall appear, we shall be like him” (1 John 3:1–2). This is one of many biblical passages that teach about man’s potential to become like God and his Son, Jesus Christ (see Matthew 5:48; John 10:34; Romans 8:17; Revelation 3:21).
We love to sing the Primary song, “I Am a Child of God.” Elder Tad Callister gave a wonderful address at BYU Education Week entitled “Our Identity and Our Destiny” on August 14, 2012. He taught many fascinating principles about fulfilling our divine potential:
There is a sentiment among many in the world that we are the spirit creations of God, just as a building is the creation of its architect or a painting the creation of its painter or an invention the creation of its inventor. The scriptures teach, however, a much different doctrine. They teach that we are more than creations of God; they teach that we are the literal spirit offspring or children of God our Father. What difference does this doctrinal distinction make? The difference is monumental in its consequence because our identity determines in large measure our destiny. For example, can a mere creation ever become like its creator? Can a building ever become an architect? A painting a painter? Or an invention an inventor? If not, then those who believe we are creations of God, rather than His spirit offspring, reach the inevitable conclusion that we do not have the capacity to become like our creator, God. In essence, their doctrine of identity has defined and dictated a diminished destiny.
On the other hand, as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, we believe that we are the spirit offspring of God with inherited spiritual traits that give us the divine potential to become like our parent, God the Father.
C. S. Lewis taught:
The command ‘Be ye perfect’ is not idealistic gas. Nor is it a command to do the impossible. He is going to make us into creatures that can obey that command. He said (in the Bible) that we were “gods” and He is going to make good His words. . . . The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for. Nothing less. He meant what He said.(“Counting the Cost,” Mere Christianity (New York: Macmillan, 1960), 174-75.)
Could it be any clearer?
Logic also teaches us that like begets like. The complex genetic code is responsible for transferring from parent to child the attributes of his parents. Isn’t it logical to assume that spiritual offspring receive a spiritual code giving them the divine characteristics and potential of their parent – God? Are we not gods in embryo?
Dallin H. Oaks has taught that becoming “heirs of God” means that we become like God:
In the theology of the restored church of Jesus Christ, the purpose of mortal life is to prepare us to realize our destiny as sons and daughters of God—to become like Him. . . The Bible describes mortals as “the children of God” and as “heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:16–17). It also declares that “we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together” (Rom. 8:17) and that “when he shall appear, we shall be like him” (1 Jn. 3:2). We take these Bible teachings literally. We believe that the purpose of mortal life is to acquire a physical body and, through the atonement of Jesus Christ and by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel, to qualify for the glorified, resurrected celestial state that is called exaltation or eternal life.
… (This destiny of eternal life or God’s life should be familiar to all who have studied the ancient Christian doctrine of and belief in deification or apotheosis). …
… Our theology begins with heavenly parents. Our highest aspiration is to be like them. Under the merciful plan of the Father, all of this is possible through the atonement of the Only Begotten of the Father, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ”
(“Apostasy and Restoration,” Ensign, May 1995, 86–87).
President Oaks referred to the early Christian doctrine of deification—the idea that human beings can become like God. This doctrine continued to be taught by many Christian writers after the deaths of the Apostles. For example, the bishop Cyprian (about A.D. 200–258) wrote: “What man is, Christ was willing to be, that man also may be what Christ is. … What Christ is, we Christians shall be, if we imitate Christ” (“The Treatises of Cyprian,” 6.11, 15, in Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, eds., The Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325: Ante-Nicene Fathers, 10 vols. , 5:468–69).
The Gospel of Philip, an apocryphal book, makes this simple statement of logic: “A horse sires a horse, a man begets man, a god brings forth a god.”
Irenaeus (115-202 AD) wrote: “We have not been made gods from the beginning, but at first merely men, then at length gods.” He clarified that exalted man would not be relegated to some type of glorified angel but literally become a god: “Passing beyond the angels, and be made after the image and likeness of God.” (The Apostolic Fathers, 522, 567)
Clement of Alexandria, a contemporary of Irenaeus, wrote of the reward of godhood that followed long preparation: “Being destined to sit on thrones with the other gods that have been first put in their places by the Saviour.” He then added this statement about the man who lives a righteous life: “Knowing God, he will be made like God. . . . And that man becomes God, since God so wills.” (Fathers of the Second Century, 539, 271)
St. Athanasius of Alexandria explained that “[God] was made flesh in order that we might be enabled to be made gods.” (Athanasius, De Incarnatione Verbi Dei (On the Incarnation), 54.3, in St. Athanasius, 65. No doubt Athanasius gained this insight from Irenaeus, who earlier had said: “If the Word has been made man, it is so that men may be made gods” (The Westminster Dictionary of Christian Theology, ed. Alan Richardson and John S. Bowden [Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1983], s.v. “deification,” 147; see Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses[Irenaeus Against Heresies], book 5, preface, in vol. 1, The Apostolic Fathers, 526).
This doctrinal truth survived for several centuries, but eventually was lost because of the Great Apostasy. The doctrine of man’s potential for godhood taught by Joseph Smith was not his invention, but simply the restoration of a glorious truth that has been taught in the scriptures and by many early writers of the primitive Church.
1 John 3:3 speaks of the “hope” that is engendered by this promise of the second coming of Jesus Christ. The Greek word for “hope” is elpida, which includes a strong sense of expectation and anticipation. Notice that he says that if we have this hope, we will “purify ourselves, even as Christ is pure.” This is no ordinary hope. It holds power. It is an expectation which motivates internal change. After all, when he comes, we shall be like him. He directs us to begin by learning to love as God loves. We can’t love as God loves unless we first love other people.
1 John 3:11. “Love One Another”
“We should love one another” is one of John’s central messages (1 John 3:11). Once again, the word love here is agapē. It is the pinnacle of Paul’s idea of the gifts of the spirit and also it’s the top rung of Peter’s ladder of perfection. Love has been taught “from the beginning,” and on the last night of the Savior’s mortal ministry, he taught it again: “This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12).
1 John 3:13–18. “If the World Hate You”
John acknowledged the hostility that Church members were facing, encouraging his readers to “marvel not … if the world hate you” (1 John 3:13). He then taught that they as disciples of Jesus Christ, who are inheritors of eternal life, have an obligation to love their brethren.
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles stated:
If you haven’t already, you will one day find yourself called upon to defend your faith or perhaps even endure some personal abuse simply because you are a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Such moments will require both courage and courtesy on your part” (“The Cost—and Blessings—of Discipleship,” Ensign, May 2014, 6).
President Dallin H. Oaks similarly taught: “As the ‘salt of the earth,’ we are also the ‘light of the world,’ and our light must not be hidden (see Matthew 5:13–16). The Apostle John warned that this will cause the world to hate us (see 1 John 3:13). That is why those who have made the covenant to change have a sacred duty to love and help one another. That encouragement must be extended to every soul who struggles to come out of the culture of the world and into the culture of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Apostle John concluded, ‘Let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth’ (1 John 3:18)” (“Repentance and Change,” Ensign, Nov. 2003, 40).
1 John 3:22. Receiving What We Pray For
The Bible Dictionary states: “The object of prayer is not to change the will of God but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant but that are made conditional on our asking for them. Blessings require some work or effort on our part before we can obtain them” (“Prayer”). I love the insight given in D&C 50:29–30, which states “it shall be given you what ye shall ask.” I don’t think this means that if we ask to win the lottery, we will receive what we ask. More likely, it means, it shall be given you by the spirit of revelation what you shall pray for. It seems the key to getting what we pray for is aligning our will with the will of the Lord.
1 John 4:12. Has “no man … seen God at any time”?
The King James Version of 1 John 4:12 reads, “No man hath seen God at any time.” The Joseph Smith Translation of this verse clarifies the misconception that mortals are unable to see God: “No man hath seen God at any time, except them who believe” (in 1 John 4:12, footnote a). Even without this clarification, the scriptures themselves testify that mortals have been able to see God. John himself had seen God the Father (see Revelation 5:1). The scriptures record several instances when God the Father has manifested himself to faithful individuals, including John himself (see also Acts 7:55–56). John 6:46 is almost identical to the Joseph Smith translation – “Not that any man hath seen the Father, save he which is of God, he hath seen the Father.”
1 John 5:2–3. The Commandments of God “Are Not Grievous”
As an extension of his teachings on love in 1 John 4, John reminded his readers that we demonstrate our love for God by keeping His commandments, which “are not grievous.”
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught that when we obey the commandments out of love, obedience ceases to be grievous:
“Do you love the Lord?
“Spend time with Him. Meditate on His words. Take His yoke upon you. Seek to understand and obey, because ‘this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments’ [1 John 5:3]. When we love the Lord, obedience ceases to be a burden. Obedience becomes a delight” (“The Great Commandment,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2007, 30).
1 John 5:6–8. “Three That Bear Witness in Earth”
Certain phrases may have been added to 1 John 5:7–8 as late as the fourth century A.D. The apparent addition is the words “in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth.”
Whether these words reflect John’s original writing or were later added by an unknown person is debated. What is important is that these verses emphasize the blood of Christ. The blood of Christ was part of his atonement and Jesus Christ’s real suffering. This truth refuted the docetic heresy that Jesus Christ did not have a mortal body (see 1 John 1:7; 5:6). Water, blood, and the Spirit are related to mortal birth, spiritual rebirth, and the Savior’s atoning sacrifice.
The New Testament Institute Student manual contains the following chart (see Moses 6:59–60):
|Mortal Birth||Spiritual Rebirth||Christ’s Atoning Sacrifice|
|Water||The child is surrounded by water in the womb.||Baptism is performed by immersion in water.||While on the cross, water flowed from Christ’s pierced side.|
|Blood||The life of the physical body is in the blood. The mother’s blood is shed during childbirth.||Christ’s atoning blood allows us to be born again.||Christ shed His blood for all humankind.|
|Spirit||Each person born in mortality is literally the offspring of heavenly parents, having received a spirit body in the premortal world.||The Holy Ghost has cleansing power.||Through Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice and perfect spirituality, we are able to be born again and receive spiritual sanctification.|
Second and Third Epistles of John
Second John is addressed to “the elect lady and her children.” (2 John. 1:1.) Who is the elect lady? The answer cannot be given conclusively. She may be an actual person—a female member of the Church, perhaps even the wife of John, who has qualified through her faithfulness to receive the fulness of gospel blessings. The children may be John’s own family. (See Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, Bookcraft, 1973, 3:410.) Or, “the elect lady and her children” may be a salutation intended spiritually to refer to an individual branch of the church, possibly in Asia. Frequently the term “woman” is intended as a symbol of the people of God, Israel, or the church. (Rev. 12:1.) And John earlier referred to faithful saints as “my beloved children.” (1 Jn. 2:1, 1 Jn. 3:18.)Thus, he may be writing to a faithful branch of the church.
Third John is addressed simply to “the well beloved Gaius, whom I love in the truth.” (3 Jn. 1:1.) Was Gaius a faithful saint, a presiding elder of a local branch? Perhaps so. Or was Gaius possibly a female member or even John’s wife? (See Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:413.) There is insufficient evidence to draw final conclusions. (See J. Lewis Taylor, New Testament Backgrounds: The Epistles of John @churchofjesuschrist.org)
John apparently wrote this epistle for the same purposes as 1 John. Responding to docetic teachings, he testified that Jesus Christ literally came to earth in the flesh, labeling those who taught otherwise as “antichrist” (2 John 1:7). He explained that members who taught that Christ did not have a physical body should be cast out of the congregation (see 2 John 1:10).
2 John 1:7–10. “Many Deceivers Are Entered into the World”
John warned his readers that “many deceivers are entered into the world” (2 John 1:7). John advised the Saints that if they encountered a false teacher, they should “receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed” (2 John 1:10). John was not suggesting that the Saints should fail to extend common courtesy to those who taught contrary doctrines. However, since early Christian congregations gathered to worship in the homes of Church members, traditional customs of hospitality could inadvertently enable heretical teachers to infiltrate congregations.
President M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles warned modern Church members not to associate with deceivers and antichrists operating in our day:
Let us beware of false prophets and false teachers, both men and women, who are self-appointed declarers of the doctrines of the Church and who seek to spread their false gospel and attract followers by sponsoring symposia, books, and journals whose contents challenge fundamental doctrines of the Church. Beware of those who speak and publish in opposition to God’s true prophets and who actively proselyte others with reckless disregard for the eternal well-being of those whom they seduce. …
Perhaps most damningly, they deny Christ’s Resurrection and Atonement, arguing that no God can save us. They reject the need for a Savior. In short, these detractors attempt to reinterpret the doctrines of the Church to fit their own preconceived views, and in the process deny Christ and His messianic role” (“Beware of False Prophets and False Teachers,” Ensign, Nov. 1999, 63).
3 John 1:4. No Greater Joy
Amidst all the problems John sees around him, he finds joy in those who have stood firm in the faith. I’m sure this scripture is a favorite of many – “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.”
3 John 1:9–10. Diotrephes Rejected the Authority of John
Diotrephes was apparently either a leader in a local branch or the host of a house-church. John noted that because Diotrephes loved to have “preeminence” among the Saints, he rejected the authority of John and other Church leaders. Rejecting presiding brethren (verse 10), is a serious problem and sign of apostasy.
The General Epistle of Jude
The epistle of Jude has been labeled “the most neglected book in the New Testament.” Why is it overlooked by a majority of Christians? Jude’s use of apocryphal texts and his doctrines about pre-mortal existence that do not accord with major Christian doctrines could account for this neglect. As members of the restored Church of Jesus Christ, these doctrines ring true and are easily understandable.
The author of this epistle identifies himself as Jude, which is the English rendering of Judah or Judas. He is the brother of James (Jacob in Hebrew), which would make him the brother of Jesus (Matthew 13:55; Mark 6:3). If this is the case, Paul may have been referring to him and the other brothers of the Lord in 1 Corinthians 9:5. According to this account, “the brothers of Jesus traveled around proclaiming the gospel message and sharing their faith with Greek-speaking communities in the Mediterranean basin” (Thomas A. Wayment, The New Testament: A Translation for Latter-day Saints, 452). Wayment also comments that the author’s Greek is sophisticated, indicating he may have had assistance in composing his epistle, which moves quickly past the customary greetings to warn his audience. This is not a teaching time, but a time of crisis. Note that much of the letter is repeated in 2 Peter 2-3, indicating that the problem may have been more widespread than this one short letter would indicate.
Also, this epistle briefly quotes from the non-canonical 1 Enoch (2:6, 14-15) as well as the Assumption of Moses. These quotations demonstrate that the author accepted a much broader canon than what was eventually passed down to us as the twenty-seven books of the New Testament. Section 91 of the Doctrine and Covenants plainly states that much “benefit” can be gained from apocryphal texts, if read with the discerning power of the Holy Ghost.
I have “WATCH OUT!” written in my scriptures in the epistle of Jude. The epistle is addressed to certain people in danger, because of the presence among them of professing Christians who were giving themselves up to the immorality of pagan worship and claiming to be above the moral law, having misinterpreted the doctrine of grace. Jude encourages his readers to recognize that God’s previous restraint in dealing with sin cannot be assumed in the future. He retells the stories of the Israelites and others who were punished for sins, specifically the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, suggesting that he was concerned with matters of sexual misbehavior. Jude wished to arouse his “beloved” to a sense of their danger, and also to help them through it by encouraging them to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered to the saints,” (Jude 1:3) referring to the faith that was taught originally by Christ himself and then by his apostles. He reminded them of the “common salvation” which God has graciously allowed all men to partake of through baptism.
Jude 1:4–8, 10. Sinners in Times Past
Jude acknowledged the ongoing apostasy in the ancient Church as he described ungodly men who entered the ranks of the Church without the awareness of the members and then taught false doctrines (see Jude 1:4). Jude cites three scriptural precedents to show how God in times past dealt with disbelievers: the destruction of those who came out of Egypt and were not permitted to enter the promised land. In verse 6 he citesthose angels in the “first estate” who knew God’s plan but left, or as the Greek implies, “forsook” it, and the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah. These Jude likens to the apostates of his own day, and predicts that the same fateful calamity which befell those in other eras will come to modern apostates as well. They err, he contends, in the same way that Cain, Balaam, and Korah of old erred — they trusted in themselves rather than God.
Verse 4 speaks of “turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness,” which is translated from the Greek word meaning licentiousness. The thesaurus lists these other meanings for licentiousness- recklessness, decadence, debauchery, shamelessness, and depravity. These former Christians were justifying their own lewd behavior by changing the beautiful doctrine of grace. They took God’s grace as a blank check to behave any way they desired.
Verse 8 states that these men “despise dominion and speak evil of dignities.” In other words, these people don’t want anyone to control them. They speak evil of the Lord’s anointed servants. They are “ark steadiers.” Verse 10 states “these speak evil of those things which they know not.” In other words, they criticize things they know nothing about. They are “brute beasts,” Christians behaving like animals!
Jude 1:6. “The Angels Which Kept Not Their First Estate”
Elder Bruce R. McConkie noted several unique characteristics of Jude:
“In the whole Bible, it is Jude only who preserves for us the concept that pre-existence was our first estate and that certain angels failed to pass its tests.
“It is to him that we turn for our meager knowledge of the disputation between Michael and Lucifer about the body of Moses.
“He alone records Enoch’sglorious prophecy about the Second Coming of the Son of Man” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 3:415).
Jude moved into a short doctrinal reflection the devil’s plan from the beginning by reminding us of the war against Satan. He wrote about the spirits who rebelled against God in the premortal world and followed Lucifer, calling them “angels which kept not their first estate” (Jude 1:6; see also Abraham 3:26, 28). Wayment comments that “the dominion or estate is a sphere of authority and power” (Wayment, 453). It could also refer to a person’s rank or position. Because these spirits rebelled against the Father, they lost their standing before God and did not qualify for the privilege of coming to mortality—our second estate.
Jude 1:9 says that Michael the archangel disputed with the devil over the body of Moses. Elder Bruce R. McConkie gave insight about this verse: “Commentators assume … that Jude had before him and was quoting from a then current apocryphal book, ‘The Assumption of Moses,’ which has been preserved to us in fragmentary form only. This non-canonical work presents the doctrine that Moses was translated and taken up into heaven without tasting death. It appears to deal ‘with certain revelations made by Moses,’ and ‘with his disappearance in a cloud, so that his death was hid from human sight. … Michael was commissioned to bury Moses. Satan opposed the burial. … Finally, all opposition having been overcome, the assumption took place in the presence of Joshua and Caleb’ (R. H. Charles, The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, vol. 2, pp. 407–413.)” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3:421).
Because of the use of this apocryphal Jewish text, Jude’s epistle became suspect to some biblical scholars. Although fragments from this text have been found, the complete text has not. Nielsen states, “Some scholars would discount should for the lack of physical evidence. Ironically, verse 19 Jude talks of those who are willing to understand only by physical things excluding the spiritual. Jude told the Saints that it is in and through Jesus Christ that they will find safety, and not to heed those who have not his spirit. Jude’s message is important to use today, for man has placed most of his faith in the sterile scientific method and not in the Lord’s prophets.”[iv]
Jude 1:11. Cain, Balaam, and Core (Korah)
Jude compared false teachers to the rebellious Cain, Balaam, and Core (or Korah, as it is spelled in the Old Testament), each of whom sinned grievously in the eyes of the Lord (see Jude 1:11). Cain murdered his brother Abel in order to gain his brother’s flocks (see Genesis 4:8; Moses 5:32–33). Balaam used his God-given gift of prophecy to seek after riches and honor (see Numbers 22:5; 25:1–8). And Korah rebelled against Moses because he was excluded from priesthood office (see Numbers 16:1–3, 31–35) and was swallowed up by the earth along with his conspirators. In each instance the Lord cursed these men for their wicked actions.
Jude 1:14–16. Enoch’s Prophecy
Jude alone recorded a prophecy of Enoch about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. Jude may have quoted from the apocryphal book of Enoch, which is not in our present canon of scripture. The book of Moses, however, confirms that Enoch was given knowledge of the last days and of the Savior’s Second Coming (see Moses 7:62–66). “Modern scholars have agreed that the book of Enoch was considered scripture by the first-century Saints. The fourth century brought apostasy and the abandonment of earlier scripture.”[v]
Jude 1:17. “Remember Ye the Words Which Were Spoken Before of the Apostles”
Jude urged his readers to remember “the words which were spoken [by] the apostles” (Jude 1:17). Eusebius, quoting an earlier source, Hegesippus, wrote the following remarkable statement:
The church continued until then (the death of the apostles) as a pure and uncorrupt virgin; whilst if there were any at all that attempted to pervert the sound doctrine of the saving gospel they were yet skulking in dark retreats; but when the sacred choir of apostles became extinct, and the generation of those that had been privileged to hear their inspired wisdom, had passed away, then the combinations of impious error arose by the fraud and delusion of false teachers. These also, as there was none of the apostles left, henceforth attempted, without shame, to preach their false doctrine against the gospel of truth. (Ecclesiastical History, 118)
Safety is found in following apostolic direction, as President M. Russell Ballard expressed:
These are difficult times, and the world’s cultural and sociological landmarks of propriety, honesty, integrity, and political correctness are constantly shifting. … At such times, we might well ask, ‘Is there one clear, unpolluted, unbiased voice that we can always count on? Is there a voice that will always give us clear directions to find our way in today’s troubled world?’ The answer is yes. That voice is the voice of the living prophet and apostles. …
Today I make you a promise. It’s a simple one, but it is true. If you will listen to the living prophet and the apostles and heed our counsel, you will not go astray. (“His Word Ye Shall Receive,” Ensign, May 2001, 65–66)
Jude 1:18–19. Mockers in the Last Days
Jude’s reference to mockers in Jude 1:18–19 probably refers to those who mocked Christians in his day, and it applies to conditions in the world today. Those who most aggressively mock the Church and its standards are those who “walk after their own ungodly lusts” and who “separate themselves” from the believers because they do not have the Spirit (Jude 1:18–19; see also 2 Peter 3:3).
Jude encouraged increased fellowship and gave sound advice to leaders and other Saints who contend for the faith. He asked them to have compassion (v. 22) with those who are weak in testimony.
We have learned
much from John and Jude. These are times of crisis. We must be on guard,
standing as witnesses at all times and in all places, holding to the “love of
God,” and striving to be found “contending for the faith” (Jude 1:3).
 Of course, whatever Jesus did not experience in his mortal life, he experienced in his atoning suffering. Consequently Jesus is the one being in the world who knows exactly how we feel and what we have experience.
 T. John Nielsen II, “Jude, a Call to Contend for the Faith,” in The New Testament and the Latter-day Saints, Sperry Symposium, 1987(Orem, Utah: Randall Book Co., 1987) p. 219-231.
 Wayment writes that “many scholars today think that 2 Peter was not personally written by Peter but by a later disciple who collected and transmitted Peter’s teachings after his death [in 68 AD]. Peter’s teachings are at the heart of the letter, but the style of writing departs so dramatically from 1 Peter as to suggest two different authors” (Wayment, 435). The main organizing feature of the epistle is the epistle of Jude, which is quoted extensively. Scholars generally agree that 2 Peter quotes Jude and not vice versa, but admittedly there is no clear evidence as to which letter was the first to be written and which one quoted the other (Wayment, 436).
[iv] Nielsen, 224.
[v] Ibid., 226.